On International Dance Day (April 29), Silverscreen.in talks to dansuese-actress Parvathy about her engagement with classical dance, and how being a danseuse helped her career as an actor.
It’s been long 25 years since Parvathy left cinema. One of the most sought-after female stars in Malayalam cinema in late 80s and 90s, she made her debut in Balachandra Menon’s Vivaahithare Ithile Ithile (1986) when she was just 16. In her eight-year-long career, she collaborated with renowned filmmakers such as Bharathan, Padmarajan, Priyadarshan and Sathyan Anthikkad, playing weighty roles that he Malayali audience continues to remember with fondness. One of the most important films in her career is Kamaladalam, directed by Sibi Malayil, where she played a gifted danseuse that Mohanlal’s character falls in love with. It was one of those rare instances when Malayalam cinema put to use Parvathy’s strong background as a trained classical dancer.
A few years ago, on a television show, Parvathy, now 48, elucidated on her love for dancing, and how she restarted learning under the mentorship of renowned artiste Kalamandalam Kshemavathi, after a 13-year-long break. “Now my children have grown and can handle things on their own. So, I’ve resumed doing the things that I loved but did not indulge in,” she said.
The actress started learning dance at the age of six and diligently continued training through school and college. She specialised in Mohiniyattam, but it came to a halt when she entered films. “There was hardly any time to practice or learn. For stage shows, I would rehearse for a few days, but that’s barely anything. After marriage, dance became a thing of the past,” she says. In 1992, Parvathy married Jayaram, her co-star in several vintage classics such as Aparan and Shubha Yathra, and, subsequently, retired from the film industry. Now, the couple’s son Kalidas has found a footing in the Tamil and Malayalam film industries as a promising young star.
Dancing made it easier to express feelings on screen, she says, but adds that it is not necessary that a good actor should be trained in dance. “I have always maintained that acting in films is different from emoting in dance recitals,” she says. However, she feels that dance training can help bring a spontaneity to performances. “Training can make you more disciplined. I think dancers have an innate grace that works wonders on screen.”
Parvathy agrees that the rasa-based acting is no more relevant in Malayalam cinema, which has gravitated towards the Euro-American style of acting that exponents such as Konstantin Stanislavsky have written about. “Acting needs to look effortless now. You have to be the character naturally and subtly. I can’t really say which style is the better one, but it depends only on the character. Some people use a lot of facial expressions and gesticulations while talking. I don’t do that off screen; so that reflected in my acting too.
She cites the example of Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of Alauddeen Khilji in Padmaavat. “That’s a very Indian rasa based performance – very expressive. He nailed it. Not many people can pull off such roles with such finesse, without going over the top.”
Parvathy feels very few new-age Malayalam films use classical dance sequences or dancers. “Is that really a drawback? No. This is another phase in cinema, and, at some point, classical art forms and artistes will continue to have a space in cinema and television.”
It is said that reality shows are partially responsible for the erosion in the popularity of classical arts in popular culture. But, Parvathy feels there is a growing crowd of youngsters who enjoy classical dance performances, at least in Chennai, the city where she has been living for many years. “During the dance season here, I see an increase in the number of youngsters who come to watch performances. May be, it does not reflect on television or in cinema, but, in reality, classical art forms have many takers.
“Except for rare instances such as Kamaladalam, I haven’t had any opportunity to put to use my classical dance skills in films,” says Parvathy, whose favourite dancers include Kalamandalam Shemavati, her Guru, and danseuses such as Neena Prasad and Sunanda Nair. And, in cinema? “Shobana,” she says instantly. “I haven’t come across another actress who balances acting and classical dance like Shobana does. There aren’t many like her.”